travelling on egypt time
One of the joys of train travel is slowing down the pace and watching the world go by. But sometimes that journey will be taken at a special local speed, as Intrepid’s Sameh Tawfik explains…
“As we arrive at Cairo station to catch the 8:00pm overnight train to Aswan, we find a group of seats away from the crowd to gather together. We wait. You can never be entirely sure when the train will arrive, how long it will stay at the platform or what time it will leave. As I explain this to my group, I start with my favourite phrase in situations like this… “Welcome to Egypt.”
Accepting ‘Egyptian time’ is important to my group’s enjoyment of their trip and I like to explain it early. In Egypt, things happen in their own time and there is no point trying to rush. It is far more pleasurable, and better for the blood pressure, to sit back and let things happen. So we wait.
A train draws into the station and my travellers look at me eagerly, wanting to know if this is ours. I tell them it isn’t, but then tell them to watch what happens. We see the carriages fill up with people and belongings of all shapes and sizes. So many people cram onto the train. Soon a whistle blows and the train jerks into a slow motion. My group watches in amazement as more than half the people scramble frantically to get back off the train! I explain that in Egypt it’s usual for families and friends to want to spend as much time as possible with people who are travelling, so they get on the train with them and wait until the very last second to get off again.
To my surprise, our train arrives in good time tonight. I ensure each one of my group clambers into the correct carriage and finds their right sleeper compartment. I find mine and store my bag before checking on my group to make sure they are comfortable. Again, we wait. I am not 100% sure the train will depart, although it has not let me down in the past. I am just not sure exactly when it will depart, so we wait.
After some time, I hear a whistle blowing in the distance and I hope that means we will depart shortly. Fortunately we do. I wonder how many times we will stop during the night on our way south.
We are treated to a meal in our cabin before we head to the drinks carriage to chat for a while. I enjoy watching my Intrepid travellers interacting with locals on the train. Some are more at ease than others, but they usually strike up a few conversations and it’s all great fun.
As we retreat to our cabins for the night, the porter arranges our beds. The rocking motion of the train sends me quickly into a deep sleep. I drift off hoping that our good fortune with Egyptian time continues throughout the night and I will awake to find us surrounded by the countryside of Egypt close to Aswan.”
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* photo by Carinda Harris – Intrepid Photography Competition